“Oh, the content. Oh, the spelling. Oh, the grammar. OH, THE ALL CAPS. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and it makes me want to read it out loud.”
So writes Ellie Rypinski (a pseudonym, due to where she lives and family ties), leading into her video rendition of the Crank Mail section from Freethought Today. She has 13 episodes online. She devoted a special edition to the messages of hate to Rhode Island teen Jessica Ahlquist.
Ellie reads the mail in a precise, pedantic voice, enunciating clearly. Her facial expressions almost make you believe, despite the inanity of the profanity and lack of clarity of thought, that this is indeed serious business instead of just a real hoot.
“Several folks have messaged me over the past few months to say that they ordered sample issues of Freethought Today thanks to my videos, so, all the better!” she says.
A little more about you, please?
I’m a freethinking agnostic who finds beauty and meaning in our natural world — no gods required. I grew up with a non-practicing Catholic father and Methodist mother. When my parents married in the 1970s in my mother’s church, my dad’s church refused to acknowledge the marriage because it had been performed the wrong way (in the Methodist tradition) by the wrong people (by a Methodist minister).
When I was 5 or so, my mom came into our living room where I’d been playing with toys. She looked at me and asked a serious question: “Honey, do you want to be Catholic like your daddy or Protestant like your mommy?”
Like most 5-year-olds, I felt closer to my mom, so I “selected” Protestantism on that basis. True story. That’s exactly the way it went down. That’s the way my religion was determined!
After several years of Sunday school at her Methodist church, I grew out of religion. It didn’t hold any answers for me any longer. Actually, it never truly had. I’d always felt like praying to god was like reciting a few lines in my elementary school’s yearly Christmas concert: I memorized words and spoke them out loud with a cheesy forced grin on my face.
Then, I’d give up the act, return to the risers, and twirl my hair around a bit until it was time to go home. In high school, I dropped out of my confirmation class and turned to secular philosophers and great writers to recontextualize my life.
When and why did you decide to start recording the Crank Mail?
I’ve been subscribing to Freethought Today for a few years now. The Crank Mail section always made me cringe. One day, I started reading it out loud to myself, and I was a bit taken aback at how ridiculous and hurtful it sounded. I tried to imagine how it would feel to hear someone in my own community looking me straight in the eyes and spouting the same hateful garbage to my face.
I read one or two pieces in front of the mirror and thought, wow, this is kind of scary. I want others to see how scary this is.
How do you deal with repeating all the profanity?
In real life, I reserve the F-bomb for rare and meaningful circumstances. But if I want to stay true to conveying the author’s original message, I need to read the letters exactly as written. No exceptions. I’ll admit that saying “nigger” and “faggot” doesn’t come easily, though.
What is your goal in doing it?
Reading it out loud transforms each message from a bunch of words on a page to something much richer. The added nonverbal signals like facial expressions and intonation remind the viewer that there’s a real live human being behind the words. Real live human beings who might live down the street and work at your favorite grocery store. Real live human beings who work at your local schools and vote in elections.
So many people mistakenly believe that religion is innocuous. It draws an artificial dividing line between people. Religion preaches intolerance. It causes wars. It disconnects families, and it discourages individuals from understanding the world through science.
I read it because I want viewers to understand exactly how intolerant some advocates of religion can be. We shouldn’t gauge a belief system by the smiling photographs of church parishioners posing at the soup kitchen in the religion section of the daily newspaper. We need to look deeper.
— Edited by Bill Dunn